Patrick Review

Three years after killing his mother and her lover by electrocution, Patrick (Robert Thompson) lies in a coma in hospital. Separated from her husband, Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon) is hired as a nurse at the same hospital, run by the Dr Roget (Robert Helpmann) and Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake). Kathy is given the task of tending to Patrick. She begins to sense that Patrick isn’t brain-dead as she thought but alive and trying to communicate with her…

Patrick is a well-handled suspense thriller on the edge of horror/fantasy, with a few nods to Hitchcock along the way. With this film, his third feature, Richard Franklin found his niche, and his career as a maker of thrillers began. He makes the most of his restricted setting and pulls off some genuinely tense sequences. (Franklin next made Roadgames in Australia – again with imported lead actors, namely Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis – before heading off to Hollywood. His Psycho II is much better than it had any right to be, though since the mid 1980s he seems to have lost his way somewhat.)

Everett de Roche (who makes a brief appearance in the film) had written the screenplay for Patrick several years before the film was made. Somewhere along the way it fell into Franklin’s hands, but he couldn’t raise all the necessary finance. Antony Ginnane stepped in as co-producer and the film was made. Ginnane had worked as a publicist on Franklin’s first film as director, The True Story of Eskimo Nell and produced his second, Fantasm, both sex comedies intended to take advantage of the explicitness allowed by the Australian R (eighteen years and over) rating introduced in 1971. Ginnane, whose other films as producer include Turkey Shoot, is a flamboyant character whose films have been pitched at the more commercial end of the market. One sign of his influence is a pitching towards international audiences in playing down the Australian (Melbourne) setting and the use of a British actress in the lead. Apparently Susan Penhaligon’s casting helped secure a British distribution deal. Penhaligon had made cinema films before this one but her reputation was really as a television actress, in particular for the 1976 serial Bouquet of Barbed Wire. As it happened, Patrick is her last cinema film to date. She’s certainly more than adequate in her role, but you can’t help thinking that there were many Australian actresses around who could have played it just as well. Robert Helpmann had a long and distinguished career in Britain (working for Powell and Pressburger amongst others) that it’s easy to forget that he was in fact Australian. He’s entertaining to watch in a performance just this side of ham, and he’s given some of de Roche’s best lines. (When asked how he came across a particularly expensive piece of medical equipment, he says “I won it in a card game.”) Also of note is a neat study of martinetdom from the always reliable Julia Blake. Robert Thompson is immobile for virtually the entire film and has no dialogue, but does what he has to do ably enough, namely look creepy.

You can easily flaw the film for implausibility. Firstly, if Patrick had simply been left to die, there’d be no film in the first place. Near the beginning, the screenplay labours over the fact that Dr Roget insists that Patrick’s eyes be left open rather than sutured shut. Never mind the extra labour in keeping those eyes bathed, the real reason is that Patrick looks much more unnerving that way. But why quibble when the film works?

Patrick is one of Magna Pacific’s budget-priced DVDs in their “Grim Reapings” horror collection. As such it’s as bare-bones as they come, but as the RRP is a mere A$9.95 (under £4 at the time of writing) there is no cause for complaint. The disc is encoded for Region 4 only and has sixteen chapter stops.

Incidentally, this is the full-length version of Patrick. Reference sources give various times from 110 to 115 minutes. This DVD runs 107:08, which would coincide more or less with the British video release (107:28, according to the BBFC website). The extra seconds might well be accounted for by distributor logos, as there are none on this DVD print. The same source quotes the cinema running time as 109:59, though PAL speedup would indicate a time at least a minute and a half longer. I don’t know if Patrick was re-edited slightly for UK cinemas, though it wasn’t cut by the BBFC for an X certificate. (I doubt it would get any higher than a 15 now.) In the USA, the film was shortened to around 96 minutes.

Magna Pacific’s transfer is full-frame, open-matte. The intended ratio would seem (by eye) to be 1.85:1, which would be convincing given that this was a film intended to play commercially in America. The picture is generally good, with strong colours and good blacks. There is the occasional scratch, dust spot and reel-change mark, but nothing too distracting. Some scenes do show some grain, notably some underwater footage in a swimming pool and the final shot over which the end credits play. This may have something to do with optical processing work, or maybe the filmstock used.

Some viewers will need to be aware that one sequence uses strobe lighting.

The soundtrack is single-channel mono, precisely as it was intended to be heard in cinemas. It’s an entirely professional job of work, with dialogue, music and effects well balanced, but hardly anything to show off your set-up with as it all comes through the centre speaker. There are no subtitles.

There are no extras, not even a trailer. A scene-selection menu is all you get.

Although it’s certainly worth your time, Patrick hasn’t really gone down in history as one of the classics of the 1970s Australian New Wave. I doubt it has enough critical or public mileage to warrant a special edition, so for the time being this budget disc is all there is. But as it is so cheap, it’s well worth an impulse buy as the film shouldn’t disappoint.

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